This race was the ultimate dichotomy: It was not my day and it was my day. Confused?
I should probably start this recap at the start line of the race, but I’d rather back up and start somewhere else: the beginning of the training cycle. If you’ve run a marathon, you know that there is so much more to a marathon than the race itself. I trained with 6 friends who were all training for the same race. We ran 9 tune-up races, 35 workouts and 1,300 miles together. Sharing the journey with friends made this one really special; the camaraderie carried us to the finish line.
The training cycle
I started training for this race at the beginning of September. On paper, the training was a 9 week fundamental phase, a 9 week specific phase and a 1 week taper. In actuality, it probably looked more like a 9 week fundamental phase, a 5 week specific phase (culminating with pacing the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon) and then 5 weeks of chaos. I won’t rehash all of it, but basically I didn’t recover as quickly as I expected to from pacing the marathon, which caused me to miss a couple of key workouts and then I came down with a sickness that caused me to miss a couple of key weeks of training.
I debated whether or not to even run the race and almost decided to run the half instead of the full. In fact, I didn’t even register until the week of the race. That’s one of the many benefits of running a small, local race. I knew that the chances of me running my “A” goal of sub-3:00 were slim. I was ok with this. Somewhere along the way, I realized that my time truly didn’t matter.
Of course it feels great to set a goal and crush it, but it also feels great to run happy and without pressure. I went into the race with expectations of having a great day and enjoying myself. That is not to say I wasn’t prepared to work. I was prepared to fight. I knew the marathon would be tough, because they always are, and I was ready for the challenge.
The temperature was a little under 30* at the start. I wore two pairs of socks, shorts, a long-sleeve shirt, a singlet, gloves and a toboggan (a hat, not a sled), and my Goodr sunglasses. Though I felt a little cold at the start, I’m glad I didn’t run in tights. My legs were numb for the majority of the race, but I’m fairly certain that this was, in fact, a good thing.
My plan was to ease into goal pace, maintain a smooth, steady pace through mile 11, run based on effort from miles 11 to 20 (the hilly section of the race) and run it home one mile at a time.
Here is what that looked like based on my mile splits:
Easing into it: 7:24, 7:05
Smooth and steady: 6:56, 6:58, 6:58, 6:54, 6:52, 7:07, 7:08, 6:50, 6:59
Effort based: 7:28, 7:24, 7:12, 7:21, 6:56, 7:28, 7:28, 7:57, 7:33
One mile at a time: 7:32, 7:40, 7:46, 8:04, 8:14, 8:21
I started the race with two of my training partners. We all trained for the sub-3:00 goal and we planned to start out together and see where the day took us. We ran the first 3 or 4 miles together, which was great!
For sub-3:00, you need to maintain 6:50 pace for the entire race. I knew fairly early on that 6:50 wasn’t going to happen. I just couldn’t settle into a smooth rhythm where 6:50 felt comfortable. The way I see it, if your goal pace doesn’t feel comfortable for the first 10 miles of a 26.2 mile race, it’s going to be a really long day if you try to force it. It’s better to reassess and find a more manageable goal.
I ran the first five miles of the race as part of a relay team. Having my team out there along the way was so nice! I got to see them every five miles (at 5, 10, 15 and 20) and they cheered for me and encouraged me every time. I handed the relay bracelet off to my teammate at Mile 5 and kept running.
At this point, the two training partners that I started the race with had pulled away, which was great because I knew that meant that they felt good and would go for sub-3. I saw my husband briefly around mile 7 and I told him that I was going to reassess my goal. I didn’t really know what the new goal was exactly, but sub-3:00 wasn’t going to happen. I took a gel around mile 8. I grabbed a cup of water at the aid station and the water cup was 50% liquid and 50% ice. Brr!
All of a sudden, around Mile 9, I felt good! Just in time for the hills, which start at mile 10. I started running based on effort (as planned) and didn’t look at my watch for the remainder of the race.
I saw my husband again around the halfway point. He was all over the place and took some great pictures. He also deserves a special award because it was twice as cold on the bike as it was running. His hands were basically solid blocks of ice at the end of the race.
You know how sometimes you are running a marathon and you are counting down every. single. mile. the entire way? I’ve been there many times, but this time the miles just flew by. I was happy to be out there and to have friends supporting (and distracting) me. Around Mile 15 my relay team caught up to me, so I ran with that teammate.
At mile 18, things started to get real, as they always do. We came to the toughest hill of the course: half a mile at 7.5% incline. Somehow I made it up that thing and kept on trucking. Before I knew it, we were already at the next relay exchange at mile 20. My running best friend (RBF, not to be confused with resting bitch face, please) had just run 5 hard miles for the relay team and when we came through the exchange at mile 20, she kept running with me. She yelled back to our team, “Come pick me up in a few miles!” and I jokingly chimed in with, “Please come pick me up too!”
If someone had offered me a ride to the finish, I would’ve gladly accepted. The only thing motivating me at this point was that I thought I was winning the women’s race. It gets kind of confusing out there with all of the relay teams and I never had a bike escort or anyone really confirming for sure that I was in first place, but I thought I was. My focus really was to get through one mile at a time. Every mile got me closer to the finish line and that’s all I cared about.
Around mile 24, a girl zoomed by me. She didn’t have a bib on her back (all relay runners are supposed to wear two bibs, front and back, so that delirious marathoners can distinguish who is who in the final miles of the race). I wondered aloud, “Is she relay?” My RBF just went ahead and shouted out to the girl, “Are you relay?!” She hollered back, “Yes!” Whew. Not that I could’ve done anything about it at that point, but it was really nice to know that I didn’t need to!
At mile 25, RBF peeled off and I was left with just ONE MILE. Hallelujah! One mile seemed doable. As I came down the finishing stretch, I had to do a double take because there was someone who looked a whole lot like my mom standing on the side of the road. Of course with my delirium, it could’ve really been anyone, but no … it wasn’t just anyone … it was my mom! Surprise! She drove 3 hours that morning just to see me finish the race. Apparently, she had a “feeling” that I was going to win and a mother’s intuition is ALWAYS right.
After a hug, I crossed the finish line in 3:14 as first female! I was so happy! While this isn’t a marathon PR, it is a course PR by 9 minutes and it is the first time I have won the full marathon in my hometown. I made my way through the finishing chute and got my medal, a mylar blanket and lots of hugs from friends and family. Shortly thereafter, I did a brief interview and the photo shows the face I made when he asked me, “So, what’s next?” I answered with something very eloquent, along the lines of, “Oh geez. I have absolutely no idea.” Too soon man, too soon.
I have to brag on my training buddies for a minute, even though they shall remain nameless and you don’t know them. Out of the 6 of us that ran, we had 6 BQs and 4 PRs! My relay team finished first overall in the female open division with a time of 3:08! I’m so proud of every single one of us. Training and racing together was truly a wonderful experience.
Perhaps it wasn’t just this specific race experience that was the ultimate dichotomy, perhaps it is the marathon itself. It simultaneously humbles you and makes you feel like you can conquer the world.